Friday, March 2, 2012

Formal to informal - a business wardrobe, part one

Dearest MaiTai,

I live and work in a casual part of Southern California. Part of my daily business is seeing customers. I love to wear my H accessories, although I feel the need to be non-intimidating by my appearance. So I strive to look business-like, although understated. I do this by slightly mis-matching my clothes and accessories. Do you have any tips and hints. Could you suggest a basic "go-to" look, for those days when I have to pull something together in a hurry?
This challenge is particularly interesting since we all live in different geographical and cultural zones, and work in environments of different degrees of formality. One person's idea of casual might be considered as formal by someone else and vice versa. So rather than showing one look only, I thought it would be interesting to start with a classic business outfit, and then taking it step-by-step down to a everyday look, exploring which details dress up, and which ones add a casual touch. Et voilà, the result is a perfect wardrobe for travelling too.

When thinking of a classic business outfit, a black or navy suit and white shirt comes immediately to mind. A first step towards a more informal look is to replace one of those elements with a more casual one. Eliminating the shirt leaves the second most formal canvas.. the little black suit. At a later time I will explore the other two possible changes (blazer and trousers), one at a time.

The first look is still quite formal, mainly because of the structured belt. Adding little silver bracelets, thin bangles, silk ribbons (preferably in colors which pick up on those of the scarf) or friendship bracelets are small touches that bring a casual and warm twist,

..while knotting the scarf (Monsieur et Madame) into a charming criss-cross bow knot adds a feminine and playful touch.

In the second look, replacing the belt with the scarf tied into a sash, and wearing a Lena horn necklace instead of a scarf. While keeping the whimsical bracelets and ribbons on the left wrist, adding a MT Collection horn bangle to the other.

Look #3 Un-tucking the top is an easy way to steer away formality..

while lighter colored accessories and a change of top make the above more casual still

In the fourth look, going for a more elaborate knot (waterfall), and therefor choosing a bracelet which picks up on the scarf's cw
Kelly double tour bracelet in ebene

Black jeans or beige chinos would make this look more casual still.

A great way to deconstruct a formal look is to add ethnic pieces (as Terese described in her challenge.. slightly mis-matching does work really well)

For look number five knotting the scarf into an easy going and floaty pleated bow knot, secured with a grande MT Collection scarf ring in honey

Replacing the scarf with a Farandole necklace..

bringing the scarf back, only wearing it this time in the basic bias fold

A fine knitwear top in a lighter color takes the look instantly to informal, as do the ethnic inspired horn pendants (Lift in black and gold).
Left with a clic H enamel bracelet in black, right with a black croc Kelly Dog

A t-shirt dresses down in an instant too, here in look #6 wearing the scarf as a belt (ends secured in the basic slide with a MT Collection grande scarf ring in dark MoP)

Some general thoughts on how to dress up (emphasising formality) or down (going towards casual)

Suit: choose whichever color suits you best. A navy suit would have a similar effect to the above. To dress down, go for lighter neutrals (beige, khaki), or choose two different colours for the top and bottom.

Shirt: To dress up, change the jersey top for a crisp cotton shirt or silk blouse. To dress down, choose a t-shirt, tank top, cotton blouse or fine sweater. Wearing a layered look under the blazer is more casual still. Black, creams, and whites are dressy, whereas the more color and pattern your top has, the more informal the look.

Shoes: Dress up with heels, brogues, ankle boots or patent leather flats. Dress down with ballet flats or loafers in smooth or suede leather, sneakers (canvas or leather) or boots with an edge (for example cowboy inspired).

Jewellery: Enamels and leather bracelets always blend beautifully in. To dress up, add pearls or gold/silver pieces. To dress down, choose whimsical or ethnic pieces.

Scarves: To make comparisons easier, I used the same scarf (Monsieur et Madame) in all of the above examples. Using different scarves would have a huge impact on the look. To dress up, go for a classic design in classic colors. Tone in tone scarves (as above) blend in, especially in more elaborate knots. To make a statement, choose bright and bold silks. The choices are endless (format, material, design and colors), and so much depends on the weather, occasion and mood of the day. And the scarf knot, of course!

Scarf knots: to dress down, go for fluid drapes or bows. To dress up, choose a formal half Ascot or tie knot. Other knots can be worn either way, a basic slide can be knotted neat, accurately and tidy, or be given a relaxed and drapey look.

Many thanks for the challenge, dear Terese. I truly enjoyed exploring the nuances of this first 'deconstruction', and hope some of the ideas will answer your question. My personal basic 'go-to' look would probably be a pair of jeans (very dark 'brut' blue or black) or other casual trousers, combined with a blazer, which I'd then play up or down with different style tops, shoes and accessories. There are so many further variations and I look forward to following up in the future!

Tomorrow, we'll be heading en familie towards the Alps for our annual skiing holiday. Have a great weekend everyone, and see you back in mid March x


  1. I think this is one of my favorite posts ever. I live in Southern California too and looking professional, but stylish can be difficult in an environment where most people dress casually even for business. Thanks for the great ideas.

  2. You have such beautiful things! Every look is amazing! Very versatile pieces. I'm in awe.

  3. MaiTai, you're an angel! I was just contemplating these issues, and voila, here is a genius post with so much food for thought. Thank you and I hope you'll do more versions of this -- navy suit next? ITA with dbeech, this is also one of my fave posts ever. Thank you! XO

  4. Fabulous post, Mai Tai. I always enjoy your capsule wardrobe and similar articles but this one encapsulates perfectly such a common situation - the need to combine travel with business and more casual engagements. Thank you JS

  5. Jaw dropping post dear MT! Great challenge,Terese,and boy did our gal live up to it! Absolutely fab variations on a theme! Thanks so much for the inspiration and time put into this thoughtful post! Have a wonderful time on the slopes and do not forget your sunscreen:) T xx

  6. This is an amazing tutorial. I really like the overall simplicity of each of these looks. I'm not sure I can pull it off as effortlessly as you seem to, but I'll try!

  7. Wow stunning post MaiTai, you have such a versatile wardrobe and an amazing range of accessories!! My favourite looks in the montage are the more casual, and as you suggest I too love a structured blazer with some smart jeans. Enjoy a wonderful trip to the snow with your family. MsTx

  8. I agree , this is a post to be bookmarked and reread. Thankyou MaiTai.
    Not so much for business, but being out and about in the capital, I like to look [ hope to !] chic but always understated . I seem to look overdone, prim and formal very easily . I strive to play things down, yet still like to wear H scarves and jewellery .
    This business of mis matching is an absolute key .The young do it very well .
    I grew up matching everything and it's hard to stop !

  9. Very glad you have recovered from 'flu in time for your holiday, although awful to be so unwell, thank goodness it hasn't encroached on your annual ski break. Sunshine, fresh air and a break from routine will ensure 100% wellbeing, I'm sure.

    This is such a packed post, I'm sure it will keep us going in your absence to revisit in greater detail at all the permutations of chic you have created! I second V.O's request for a navy variation another time, that would be lovely!

    I do love the fact that you re-work your trusted favourites such as the Lena, Farandole and Lift as well as your scarves and clothes, in fresh combinations. The internal and external pressure is to have to purchase more to vary our wardrobe whereas, actually, being resourceful and imaginative with what we could be the answer.

    Thanks so much for this food for thought and bonne vacances!

  10. BRAVO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Tous vos exemples sont magnifique.
    J adore ceux qui sont un peu moins chargé style celui avec le sautoir farandole c est vraiment trés beau
    Encore une fois bravo
    Passez de tres bonnes vacances

  11. I absolutely love this post Mai Tai. Such an amazing and comprehensive tutorial!

    This is definitely my favorite post. Thanks for the inspiration.


  12. To paraphrase a younger generation "You've got it goin' on" MaiTai! You make it simple, elegant and fun!
    I send best wishes to you and your Family for a safe and wonderful holiday!


  13. MaiTai, Wow, I am completely speechless at this fantastic post. It is absolutely perfect for Southern California. "You absolutely nailed it" as we say here. Thanks for your fabulous ideas, and yes, it makes a great business travel wardrobe. mwah.

  14. WOW! Just amazing, I love everyone of the looks. Your sense of style is impeccable, you should write a book and I would be the first to buy it.

    Have a great vacation.

  15. Fabulous post every suggestion is inspiring and the pics are wonderfull great to see them all together, have a wonderfull holiday and look forward to your next post

    Best ladyjane

  16. Dear MaiTai,
    It has been said now numerous times - this is one of the best posts. You have outdone yourself and I am amazed with what ease and instinct you put these outfits together. The different pairings of colors and accessories are so helpful.
    Thank you so much and have a safe and enjoyable skiing vacation. Few things feel better than returning all worn out but happy from the slopes - one also sleeps so well.

  17. Dear Mai Tai,

    This must have taken you ages but WOW! It's amazing to see all the different looks - I will return to this post often.

    Grazie mille!

    Have a wonderful ski trip ~ I can't believe it's that time of the year again!


  18. Thanks for all the great tips on how to change up a look with the scarves and accessories. Have a great ski trip!

  19. Wonderful information as always MT. Many thanks for the pictures and great ideas. xxS

  20. This post is fantastic! So very helpful!. Thank you dear MT for doing this for us. I wish you a lovely time on the slopes.

  21. Love the photos, im your newest follower X


  22. Dear MaiTai;

    Your post is fantastic and so useful for any woman who wants to dress in a way that looks updated and different everyday, but wants to use the key pieces in her wardrobe. Thank you for taking the time to think through each outfit and come up with all the different ways your put together your lookbook.


  23. This is great! May I ask if you ever wear a skirt suit, or do you find them less versatile?

    Have a lovely skiing holiday, I am most jealous as despite being bale to see the alps from my office on a good day, I don't think I'm actually going to be able to get my downhill skis out this year.

  24. You are amazing as usual dearest Mai Tai. No one could show the power of accessories better that you! Thank you for always being such an inspiration!
    Have a fantastic holiday with your family!
    Hugs, Tania

  25. I wish I could recall just how many times I have looked at this post over the past several days, but I can't. The number is too great. Thank you for all of the work and time you put into this post! Explaining what made each outfit dressy or more casual, from tops, to scarves and their knots to jewelry was nothing short of a light bulb moment. I am certain that I speak for many of us, in that this is one post that we will all refer back to time and time again. Absolute perfection, dear. Perfection.

    Warm hugs,

  26. My dear MaiTai
    This is one of my favourite posts! A great lesson of style!!! You are simply amazing! Thank you for the time you spent preparing this useful post and the dedication and care you put into it. Love it!!!
    Hope you are having a wonderful time in the Alps. Manuela xx

  27. It's been a week and my head is still blank - so all I can do is agree with everybody else and thank you for writing up such a wonder- and useful entry. Since I also run a small blog, I know quite well how much time it takes to think up a post about a huge topic like this, organize it and last but not least form it into a sense making form. ;-) So again I'm not only in awe about your chic looks (can't remember the last time, someone looked this good in a "simple black suit"), but also about the great effort you made to write up this great "recipe". Sending hugs - xox, Macs

  28. My dearest MaiTai,

    There are no words to describe my admiration for this most awe-inspiring post! All the dear ladies have already said so beautifully, just how rare and amazing a gift you've given us. Each version so extraordinarily gorgeous and distinctive - your brilliant presentation of this phenomenal collection is simply out of this world. It truly is a 'must see and study' style reference for all. I am so very grateful to you for your prodigious efforts and a tremendous labor of love, dear MaiTai - you truly are an angel <3
    Hope you and your family have had a most wonderfully relaxing, refreshing and a fun vacation in the beautiful Alps. Sending you much love with huge welcome back hugs xoxo

  29. Dear MaiTai,

    I've followed your blog for a year or two, but I don't believe I've ever left a comment. I'll add my voice to the chorus of appreciation for your beautiful and thoughtful approach - this is one of my favorite posts.

    I also would love to see more variations on this theme. For reasons of climate, convenience, and personal preference I usually wear trousers and a fine-gauge knit top of cashmere or silk in dark neutral colors - but no jacket or topper. I would welcome your ideas for accessorizing to increase the level of formality so that I don't feel underdressed for business. I hate the idea that I always have to wear a jacket to look "finished" in a business context!

    ~Tracy D.

  30. My dear dbeech, Anonymous, Dr. VO, JS, Trudye, Monkey, msT, Estrella, pussywillow, myriam, MS, Maisie, Terese (so very happy you enjoyed the outcome, again mille merci for the wonderful challenge <3), Elizabeith, ladyjane, Maedi, Penelope Pitstop, SophieG, SMR, booksnchocolate, Zizi, Sherry, Marzipan piglet (personally, I feel more comfortable in pant suits, but most of the above would work just as well with a skirt suit.. all depending on the type of skirt), Tania, CS, Manuela, Macs, Scarf Enthusiast and Tracy D, thanks so much for the wonderful and special comments, and sweet good holiday wishes. You truly are the loveliest group of friends and readers one could possible wish for. It is so lovely to see you all again xx

    A special big thank you to Dr. VO and Tracy D. for the great new challenges, looking very much forward to both of them!

  31. Oh, my! I just discovered your site and can't believe my eyes -- I kept thinking that there MUST be a source for these ideas, but I couldn't find it until now. Every style here looks so well put-together and yet effortless. I have many Hermès scarves that I have acquired over the years because they are so beautiful to look at, but I never knew how to wear them without looking "over-dressed." I just ordered two of your gorgeous scarf rings (Grande in Dark MOP and Moyenne in Honey), and I cannot wait to play and try new things! Très jolie! Merci!

  32. A very warm welcome to you, dear Barbara. So lovely to hear you find inspiration here. Many thanks also for the order. Hope the rings will be with you soon, and wishing you much fun knotting and playing!

  33. Amazing post! All the looks are gorgeous. Definitely bookmarking this post and following your blog.

  34. Many thanks! And a warm welcome to my blog :)

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